The Great Controversy - Teachers Comments

2024 Quarter 2 Lesson 01 - The War Behind All Wars

Teachers Comments
Mar 30 - Apr 05

Key Text: Revelation 12:7, 8

Study Focus: Rev. 12:7–9, Col. 1:16, Ezek. 28:12–15, Isa. 14:12–14, John 17:24, Gen. 3:15.

Introduction: This week’s lesson introduces the topic of the cosmic conflict, or the great controversy, between Christ and Satan. We shall begin our study by examining both the origin of evil and God’s solution to humanity’s fall into sin.

Several aspects of the cosmic conflict merit our consideration. First, the great controversy is not perpetual; it originated in heaven when Lucifer, a created being, headed a band of rebel angels who challenged God, the eternal Creator and King of all beings. Thus, we can surmise that if evil and the devil had a beginning, they will certainly have an end.

Second, the cosmic conflict shows the radical incompatibility of good with evil. Neither party can coexist with, or tolerate, the other: each group yearns for the extinction of the other. When evil came into existence, it challenged the very idea of God’s right to exist and rule, notwithstanding the eternal nature of God.

Further, the great controversy eliminates any form of philosophical or religious dualism in which both evil and good are coeternal, coequal, and necessary. The biblical worldview clearly excludes the necessity of evil. We do not need evil in order to know and appreciate what is good. Nor is evil necessary to increase good.

Third, the fact that evil and the great controversy originated in heaven arouses in the minds of rational and free moral agencies the notion that the conflict is primarily spiritual in nature and must, therefore, have a spiritual solution. While evil arose without any contribution from God (in fact, evil rose against God), it cannot be extinguished from existence without God. By its nature, evil damages beings and the universe fatally. Thus, only God and His supernatural, creative power can exterminate evil altogether and remove its catastrophic consequences.

For this reason, God’s plan of salvation does not consist in simply identifying, acknowledging, shaming, or punishing the originators of evil. Such measures are neither efficient nor sufficient in exterminating evil from the universe. Rather, God solves the sin problem by taking the consequences of sin upon Himself, in Christ. By His creative power, God actively engages in the destruction of evil and the cleansing and restoration of the universe.

Lesson Themes: This week’s lesson highlights three major themes:

  1. Evil and the cosmic conflict originated in a perfect heaven. They then spread to earth, taking root in the hearts and minds of free moral agents, who were created in the image of God.
  2. Sin and evil became manifest as rebellion against God.
  3. The only way to salvation, and to the end of the cosmic conflict, is through the Cross and through the mediation of Christ and His creative, restorative power.

Part II: Commentary

The Adventist Understanding of the Great Controversy. Seventh-day Adventists have a unique understanding of the origin of sin and the solution thereof. Unlike other Christians, Adventists do not have a fundamental belief dedicated to the doctrine of sin. However, they integrate their understanding of sin within the framework of the great controversy. John M. Fowler correctly points out that “no doctrine of sin can be complete without an understanding of this great controversy theme between Christ and Satan, between good and evil. The sovereignty and character of God are at its center. When Lucifer caused the revolt in heaven against God . . . and when the revolt reached its climax, God had no alternative except to cast the fallen angelic host from heaven.”—John M. Fowler, “Sin,” in Handbook of Seventh-day Adventist Theology, ed. Raoul Dederen (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 2000), p. 241.

While other Christians also believe in the fall of Lucifer and of Adam and, to some extent, the cosmic conflict between God and Satan, Adventists have articulated these concepts in the form of a unique doctrine, encapsulated in fundamental belief 8:

All humanity is now involved in a great controversy between Christ and Satan regarding the character of God, His law, and His sovereignty over the universe. This conflict originated in heaven when a created being, endowed with freedom of choice, in self-exaltation became Satan, God’s adversary, and led into rebellion a portion of the angels. He introduced the spirit of rebellion into this world when he led Adam and Eve into sin. This human sin resulted in the distortion of the image of God in humanity, the disordering of the created world, and its eventual devastation at the time of the global flood, as presented in the historical account of Genesis 1–11. Observed by the whole creation, this world became the arena of the universal conflict, out of which the God of love will ultimately be vindicated. To assist His people in this controversy, Christ sends the Holy Spirit and the loyal angels to guide, protect, and sustain them in the way of salvation.—Fundamental Belief 8, “The Great Controversy,”

The biblical teaching of humanity’s fall into sin is also present in fundamental belief 7:

Man and woman were made in the image of God with individuality, the power and freedom to think and to do. Though created free beings, each is an indivisible unity of body, mind, and spirit, dependent upon God for life and breath and all else. When our first parents disobeyed God, they denied their dependence upon Him and fell from their high position. The image of God in them was marred and they became subject to death. Their descendants share this fallen nature and its consequences. They are born with weaknesses and tendencies to evil. But God in Christ reconciled the world to Himself and by His Spirit restores in penitent mortals the image of their Maker. Created for the glory of God, they are called to love Him and one another, and to care for their environment.—Fundamental belief 7, “Nature of Humanity,”

Two additional aspects of the Adventist doctrine of the great controversy deserve our consideration: (1) the origin of the great controversy theme and (2) its historicity.

First, the great controversy theme springs out of Scripture and lies at the very foundation of the Adventist biblical interpretation and doctrinal development. Commenting on biblical interpretation, Ellen G. White notes:

The Bible is its own expositor. Scripture is to be compared with scripture. The student should learn to view the word as a whole, and to see the relation of its parts. He should gain a knowledge of its grand central theme, of God’s original purpose for the world, of the rise of the great controversy, and of the work of redemption. He should understand the nature of the two principles that are contending for supremacy, and should learn to trace their working through the records of history and prophecy, to the great consummation. He should see how this controversy enters into every phase of human experience; how in every act of life he himself reveals the one or the other of the two antagonistic motives; and how, whether he will or not, he is even now deciding upon which side of the controversy he will be found.—Ellen G. White, Education, p. 190, emphasis supplied.

As a result of this biblical approach to interpretation, the great controversy theme is interwoven into all other biblical doctrines of Adventist theology. The integration of the great controversy theme into Adventist theology commences with the doctrine of God, with the very essence of His nature as free, loving, gracious, righteous, just, and faithful. Throughout Scripture, the great controversy theme continues to be interwoven with the following doctrines:

  1. The teaching of Creation as an expression of God’s love, freedom, and power
  2. The origin of human nature, its present condition, and its final destiny
  3. The fall of humanity from its original righteousness and communion with God
  4. God’s actions of salvation, as manifested in the incarnation, ministry, death, resurrection, ascension, and mediatorial ministry of Christ in the heavenly sanctuary, as well as in His second coming
  5. God’s redemptive plan of justification, sanctification, and the promise of future glorification for the human race
  6. God’s constitution of His people throughout all periods of human history, culminating in the calling out of an end-time remnant from among the Protestant churches to proclaim His final invitation of mercy to humanity
  7. The pre-Advent, millennial, and executive judgments of God, climaxing in the end of evil and in the restoration of all things

Second, the great controversy is historical in nature. Because traditional Christianity integrated Greek philosophical presuppositions and concepts, such as the immaterial, timeless, spaceless nature of heaven, many Christians interpret biblical references to the cosmic conflict and of the fall of humans into sin, as allegories or theological myths. However, the Adventist historical-grammatical interpretation of the Bible presents God as personally and historically involved in the history of humanity’s fall into sin and in the history of salvation. God, Lucifer, the angels—both rebellious and righteous—Adam and Eve, and their fall into sin are all real historical characters and events. Jesus referred to Satan as a literal, historical person, one whom Jesus knew from before the start of this earth’s history, and who was the originator of evil and sin. Jesus once explained to the Pharisees that they were neither the children of Abraham (John 8:39, 40) nor the children of God (John 8:41, 42), but rather were of their father “the devil” who “was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44, NIV).

John the revelator also depicts both the devil and the cosmic conflict that he instigated as historical. Following the example of Jesus, John represents the devil as “the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world” (Rev 12:7–9, NASB), as the one who is the originator of the war, evil, and deception, both in heaven and on earth. The immediate context of Revelation 12:7–9 suggests that the apostle John considered both the devil and the cosmic conflict as an historical entity and event, respectively: as historical as God Himself (Rev. 12:5, 6, 10, 17), as historical as the birth and ascension of Jesus (Rev. 12:5), as historical as the existence of the church and the persecutions against it (Rev. 12:1, 6, 11, 13–15), and as historical as the cross of Jesus through whose blood we are saved (Rev. 12:11). While we do not know when this cosmic conflict in heaven took place, we believe that it can be dated “before the creation of Adam and Eve and that it was as historical as humanity’s fall into sin at the instigation of the same Satan.”—Handbook of Seventh-day Adventist Theology, pp. 241, 242.

Part III: Life Application

Discuss the following questions in class with your students.

  1. What do people in your culture think of the apparent existence of the conflict between good and evil, both in our world and in human society? How do they understand the origin of evil? Do they believe evil will ever end? Why, or why not? Have they already given up on any hope for the termination of evil? If so, why? Perhaps they think evil is here to stay, or is even necessary to keep some sort of balance in the universe and in history. If so, explain why they may feel this way. How can you share with them the biblical perspective on evil?
  2. In what way do the various theories about the origin of the conflict between good and evil affect the understanding of human morality and responsibility? Take, for instance, the theory of evolution. How does this theory impact our understanding of the origin of evil and, consequently, our understanding of human morality? What other theories regarding the origin of evil can you think of, besides evolution, that are prevalent in your culture?
  3. Think of ways to describe and explain to the people around you the Adventist doctrine of the origin of evil, of the great controversy, and of the biblical hope. How can you share these Bible truths with your friends, neighbors, and colleagues from other Christian denominations or from other religions, philosophies, or worldviews? What elements would you include in the outline of your description of the great controversy?